NYCB return to SPAC an intimate love letter to fans

SARATOGA SPRINGS — Classical story ballets, like “Swan Lake” and “The Sleeping Beauty,” are usually…

SARATOGA SPRINGS — Classical story ballets, like “Swan Lake” and “The Sleeping Beauty,” are usually all about glamour and spectacle. There are glittering costumes, elaborate sets, a full orchestra in the pit and a series of romantic pas de deux, interspersed with party scenes populated by dozens of corps members.

That was not what New York City Ballet presented when the company returned to SPAC Wednesday night for a joyful reunion with devoted local fans. But they offered something equally enchanting, in an entirely different way.

The Saratoga premiere of “On and Off Stage: Short Stories,” with a cast of just 15 dancers and two pianists (Nancy McDill and Alan Moverman), gave viewers a glimpse behind the scenes and a chance to experience the human side of these superhuman performers. Designed to accommodate COVID restrictions, the new format comprises brief excerpts from eight ballets, with host Maria Kowroski and the company members sharing historical details and personal reflections about each work. (During the remainder of the company’s run, “Short Stories” will alternate with a program of excerpts from five Balanchine masterworks, hosted by Gonzalo Garcia.)

We hear how the three dancers in Jerome Robbins’ “Fancy Free” (Amar Ramasar, Spartak Hoxha and Lars Nelson) envision their characters—and then we get to see them embody those personas with jazzy swagger. We learn that Miriam Miller rehearsed her facial expressions in a mirror for the scene in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” when she falls in love with a donkey while spellbound—and then we enjoy her completely convincing adoration in the comical duet with Nelson. And we celebrate Meaghan Dutton-O’Hara’s debut in the technically demanding “Rose Adagio” from “The Sleeping Beauty,” a tour de force of balances and développés.

The program also featured three pas de deux depicting enchanted birds: Odette from “Swan Lake,” portrayed with poignant vulnerability by Teresa Reichlen, partnered by Tyler Angle; a pair of frothy, fluttering bluebirds (Sara Adams and Hoxha) from “The Sleeping Beauty”; and George Balanchine’s “Firebird,” in which Reichlen and Ramasar showed their fiercer, edgier sides. Excerpts from Robbins’ clever “Mistake Waltz,” in which one dancer can’t quite keep up, and Balanchine’s folk dance–inspired “Western Symphony” added yet more flavors to the mix.


The host also had her moments in the spotlight. After 25 years with the company, Kowroski is set to retire this coming season, and her reminiscences drew from a rich and varied career, including many summers at SPAC. She recalled a night when a thunderstorm knocked out the electricity, leaving her on a pitch-black stage; a July production of “The Nutcracker” in 100-degree heat; and a memorable performance of “Midsummer” surrounded by fireflies. SPAC, she said, is “a truly magical home away from home.” For audiences, having a new layer of connection with their beloved company only adds to the magic.

 


Dance review

New York City Ballet’s “On and Off Stage: Short Stories”

 

When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday

 

Where: SPAC, 108 Avenue of the Pines, Saratoga Springs, NY

 

Length: 90 minutes, no intermission

 

Repeats: 7:30 p.m. Thursday and 2 p.m. Saturday; alternates with “On and Off Stage: All Balanchine” at 2 p.m. Thursday and 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday

 

Tickets: $30–$105

Info: 584-9330 or https://spac.org